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When America First Met China

Tea, drugs, fortune and the 19th century high seas. We’ll look back to the exotic history of when America first met China.

William John Huggins - The opium ships at Lintin, China.

William John Huggins – The opium ships at Lintin, China.

America and China look at each other today as the two giants of a massively globalizing world.  Each wondering what the future brings.  Some answers may lie in the past.  When China was the grand, troubled empire.  When America was the whipper-snapper upstart.

Sailing clipper ships halfway round the world for China’s tea and porcelain.  Bringing furs and opium.  Taking desperate human labor – “coolies.”  Kowtowing and bullying. Making fortunes, and a legacy.

This hour, On Point:  When America first met China.

-Tom Ashbrook


Eric Jay Dolin, author of the new book When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail.

Michael Hunt,  Everett H. Emerson Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Excerpt: When America First Met China

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  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Exotic history, OnPoint? Surely you meant to say barbaric history. No need to rewrite history as romance novel.

    • Jengliu

      The empire of ancient China was on the brink of collapse when American, a young and vibrant power, came to in contact with it.  Speaking the divine mandate, the first encounter of the two nations is no less than the agent for extreme make-over (dynasty replacement) that chinese history books emphasized (iterated)repeatedly. Despite of political rhetoric under the disguise of nationalism on China’s part, the historical event is credited for the rebirth of the modern China, and it should be rightfully so.

  • modavations

    Marco Polo(Gems,Spices,textiles) and Jean Baptiste Tavernier(Diamonds) used to journey East.They would be gone for 10 years at a time.I use jets.I can be in and out of these places in a week and I don’t need Body Guards.Now Nigeria,Sierra Leone,etc,. is a different story.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    China represents the collectivist model of society, while America represents the individualist.  A conflict was inevitable.

    • Don_B1

      China has moved economically from a totalitarian communist state to a command economy with capitalist elements, with some analogies to a fascist state, while the U.S. is a combination of regulated capitalism and a social safety net, a currently tenuous fight between unbridled capitalism and a cooperative relationship where citizens are collectively free to choose the functions that the private and public sectors should provide.

      • Mouse_2012

        Yet the 2 main parties engaged in “collectivist modeling”

        As for

        “citizens are collectively free to choose the functions that the private and public sectors should provide.”

        Yet when a majority of citizens wish to act on such freedom there prevented often requiring not 51% but 60% this is mainly prevented by the “collectivist modeling” by the RNC and DNC often passed down by an much smaller elite and presented by 5 or 6 main media sources that profit from both parties and their big donors.

        I agree with your comment about China but see the U.S. moving in the same way with the exception that it’s not the U.S. state but Big Private unknown donors

        • Don_B1

          I do think I should have included the word, “supposedly” before the word “free.” That would reinforce the “tenuousness” that I had alluded to.

          I was probably trying to be hopeful in spite of my deep worries about how this country will survive its current threats from within.

          Interestingly, I am just reading Jeffrey S. Victor’s article in Skeptical Inquirer (July/August 2012), “Political Myths that Influence Voters.” It gives a more concrete foundation to a lot of thinking about why voters do or don’t do what they do.

    • Jian Sun

      Americans are collective in terms of religion – whether you’re
      believer or non-believer. Conflict of individualism against collectivism does
      exist between republicans and democrats both in economical and religious sense.
      If you truly understand Chinese culture – it’s individualistic. Collectivism was
      the communist era 30 years ago. The Conflict between USA and China is the
      ideological stupidity – Christianity v communism or democracy v

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         So you’re saying that China was a representative democracy with a strong respect for human rights before Mao took power?  If so, I have a bridge for sale.

  • Mouse_2012

    Cool show,

    I been watching alot of mandarin movies and it seems the beef china has is with the Brits not the Americans.

    I read about the “the three dynasties” and history of China and enjoyed it.

    Thanks for the show another show that would be interesting is the forced relationship between the Americans and

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Caller, coolie is a historical term.  Get over yourself.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    You don’t need to look to hard to figure out that China is topping the US now just as the US topped the European powerhouses a hundred years ago.

  • MarthaARB

    The Forbes family comprador in Canton, Hou Qua, one of the wealthiest traders in the world at the time, gave the family $1 million to invest for his family in the emerging US industries. It was eventually returned with interest. His relationship with the US traders is a remarkable tale which you can learn about at the Forbes House Museum in Milton.

  • http://eroticdesktops.co.uk/ CodeMe

    Great post, there are more Backdrop here you should take a look

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